Reflections on the Bishop’s Confirmation Retreat at Lazy W Ranch – March 4-6, 2016
by Todd Potter (15), 10th grader from First UMC, Redondo Beach, CA
My church and other churches in the California-Pacific Conference came to the Bishop’s Confirmation Retreat at Lazy W Ranch in hopes of meeting new friends and growing closer to God. This unified purpose allowed us to bond quickly with people we’d just met, despite the barriers of talking to strangers. Maybe it was the lack of Wi-Fi or the fact we were put into groups with people we would never have met had we not gone on this retreat, but I felt myself and the people around me see God clearer through the people we met along the way.
Throughout the weekend, we played team-building games that forced us to put complete faith in people we were still beginning to know. We also had group discussions that helped us learn about each other’s lives and helped us begin to realize how acutely Jesus has affected who we are today. It was during these activities that we saw how beautifully God can bridge the gap between people who wouldn’t normally become friends, filling our hearts with love that overflows into our actions and words.
One of the more interesting dynamics of the weekend was mealtime, and I’m not saying that just because of the amazing s’mores cake. The way people we barely knew would invite us to eat lunch with them and how people willingly struck up conversations in an attempt to know those they were eating with showed how hospitable the world should be. Nothing like this would happen at school, and that really shows that we have a lot of work to do “so all may experience God’s life-giving love.”
During free time people from different churches hung out together, playing basketball, volleyball, or any of the other various games at Lazy W Ranch. I really liked how accepting everyone was and that the sense of unity between the different churches was infectious. Constant handshakes paired with an exchange of names. Smiles and laughter flowed as people got to know each other just an iota better. Then there was the occasional hug, saying the things words can’t begin to describe: the feeling of friendship, brotherhood, or the feeling of a second mother. Those feelings were priceless.
On Saturday we thought about how we can use the different gifts God gave to us to inspire the world. It was awesome to see each other brainstorm about how even small leaps of faith can change the world. A girl in my group talked about using her incredible singing voice to inspire people to live with love. People discussed about helping each other incorporate what Jesus taught us into our daily lives. I talked about how stories showing how God has helped people to put others’ lives before their own could inspire people to live more selflessly. Others talked about ways we could become passionate followers of Jesus Christ and ways we could embody the idea of “What Would Jesus Do?”, taking into account the obstacles we may face on our journeys of faith. People also talked about the ways we can help others experience God’s love and know that they fit into the puzzle of God’s plan. Ideas included inviting people to church, helping the homeless, helping improve the community, and showing compassion to everyone
One of the many blessings of the retreat was hearing Bishop Carcaño preach about how God has made her the person she is today. Her story about the boy on the orange crate reading the Bible was moving to me because he was passionate to see another person who believed the same things he did. I kind of felt like that boy last weekend because, sure, I had seen my family and my fellow church members as followers of Christ, but I don’t think I was fully aware of the grand scale of people who believe the same things I do. I had only seen one piece of God’s puzzle, but after last weekend I saw a handful more. It would really be special if United Methodist churches met together more frequently so more people could see how God has affected so many lives. The story about how Bishop Carcaño’s friend became a passionate follower of Jesus Christ demonstrated the fact that God will lead us through the storm if we believe that the world can become a better place. It also showed that life is always worth living, no matter the circumstances. The story about the transgender woman who set up a program to help men dealing with substance abuse showed that you can find God’s love anywhere, even in a paper bag inside of a dumpster. The story about Bishop Carcaño and her mother in the cotton field showed how God’s love will show itself and how being a passionate follower of Jesus never stops. The story of the boy riding unaccompanied on La Bestia in search of a better life only to die at the steps of a house in South Texas reminded me of Moses and how he died before he could experience the promised land. It made me realize that we should always strive for our dreams in spite of our doubt and we should always be looking out for the ways in which God is nudging us along the road of Life. Out of all the stories she told, the one that hit me the most was the story about about Don Julio and how Bishop Carcaño finally brought herself to forgive him, showing him the true extent of God’s love in his final hour.
The campfire worship on Saturday was simply beautiful. The sing-along mashup of “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot,” “When The Saints Go Marching In,” and “This Train Is Bound For Glory” was really moving. It set the tone for the rest of the night, ending just as it started to drizzle. My hands felt tingly as the drops falling from the heavens caught my skin. Originally they were going to use the water pitcher to re-baptize people, but when the rain began to fall before Bishop Carcaño started her sermon, they decided to use the rain instead. That was how we reaffirmed our baptisms with the water falling from the stars.
While Bishop Carcaño was preaching her sermon about how God’s love changed her life and how it made her want to spread God’s life-giving message, I couldn’t help but fall in love with the campfire crackling, sparks flying upward as it sparred with the rain falling slowly, then quickly, then slowly again. As Bishop Carcaño’s sermon ended and we reaffirmed our baptism with the rain to conclude the worship, I felt this spark of inspiration, perhaps the Holy Spirit, touching my firewood heart. Suddenly I could barely contain myself as my brain raced through metaphors flashing like sunbursts. It was quiet as I finally got back to the cabin. I tore open my bag in desperate need of a pen, flung open my notebook, grabbed my Bible, and started writing before the words slipped through my fingers.
God’s love is much like the rain that fell last Saturday night. God’s love, like water, nourishes us and helps make things new. Sometimes a rainstorm in our lives may feel like darkness, but the rain will not put out the fire in our hearts, but will instead help us become more passionate followers of Jesus Christ. The fire that came down and gave the apostles the ability to communicate with people of different tongues will constantly inspire us to be better followers of Christ, but once in awhile we must renew our faith with the rain. And by renewing our faith, we’re renewing the fact that God loves us all, unconditionally. The fire of God that surrounded the disciples still burns today and gives the world the light needed to live in spite of the darkness in our lives. We must face the fact that there will be rain on our parade, and we must march onward despite the downpour because the rain is actually a blessing whether we see it or not. We must carry on singing to the same heavens that rain down upon us to show that God loves us and fills us with fire to proclaim God’s Word so that the whole world may feel warmth inside their hearts as they dance in the rain.
After the final worship together we passed the peace of Christ. The newfound urgency of hugs once people realized they were leaving the friends they made that weekend was breathtaking. I saw the swapping of phone numbers and words of encouragement being exchanged, but then as quickly as it began we were driving out of the wilderness to spread God’s life-giving love to the world.